AND THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH…BUT THEY WON’T GET THE BALL

DANIELLE HEADER PICBy Kelly Bond-White

 

I watched as every emotion ran down Danielle’s cheek. As the crowd rose to their feet, the redness in her cheeks magnified. Sure she’d heard those sounds of amazement and affection through thunderous applause, as fans marveled at her talents. However, she could always deflect such prays and note those cheers were for her teammates as well. This night as her hand and suit jacket tried to catch each moment that fell from her eye. The spotlight landed where it rightfully belonged.

D, DA, or Dano as my daughter calls before she runs and jumps in her arms, would never write this blog. The words just don’t seem to come when asked to talk about herself. However, if you ask her about Aggieland, her coaches, family, faith, and teammates, she’ll leave the audience in tears as she did last Friday night.

“1st off I’d like to thank the (12th Man) Letterman’s Association. I never thought of this day in my life.”

We in Aggieland were just grateful Danielle chose us as her canvas. So it was definitely not shocking when in her acceptance speech, she thanked the voting panel and all of Aggieland first. Merriam-Webster defines the act of being humble as, “showing a modest estimate of one’s own importance”. While Danielle never thought the day was possible, then Aggie Coach Johnnie Harris knew exactly what the quiet kid entering our locker-room could do. “Just trust me!” Coach Harris’s personality and talents were very similar to Danielle’s, even her Twitter handle starts with Humble Heart. A nod to her demeanor and faith-driven approach. By the time we were recruiting Danielle, and Johnnie said “trust me”, you did just that!  The tears Danielle showed this night, we first saw in her family’s eyes after she played her first NCAA game. We had just beaten Duke at Reed Arena. The Aggie faithful stayed on their feet and were in a frenzy after D splashed her first three-pointer and ended the night with 20+ points. Her Grandmom, Mom, and Aunt were overcome with emotion. They couldn’t believe over 10,000 Aggies were screaming for their baby.

D AND JOHNNIEWell, Aggieland and our coaching staff were sure glad we trusted Coach Harris. As teary-eyed Danielle turned her thanks and attention to Coach Blair and her coaches.

“Coach Blair thank you for a great two years. Thanks for believing in me when no one else would. You gave me an opportunity; I will never regret a day in my life”.

Some wondered how the soft-spoken sweetheart would translate on the court. Coach Blair simply referred to Danielle as his Charles Barkley (Charles ain’t never shot the ball like D). However, as coaches, we could see the similarities. Undersized warriors in height, yet unmovable in heart and girth. Danielle was the ultimate professional! She came to work every day. No matter what was going on outside those 94ft, she was focused! She took coaching and went hard. The sweet stroke was just the beginning, her quick feet allowed her to blow by defenders, her ability to tip the ball to herself made her an imposing rebounder. But her selflessness made her one of the best defenders in the Big 12. Rotating for a charge, steals off the hedge, stripping unsuspecting ball handlers all got her teammates and coaches up off their seats. “It’s not what we do, but how we do it was a rallying cry” for our defense.  Danielle made sure she helped lead the way as we unleashed the GATA on our opponents.

Perhaps my favorite part of the night came as Danielle was overcome with emotion. As she began to thank her family, the tears poured harder. Her Aunt Mary got up in front of over 700 folks and extended a tissue to Danielle. Thus pausing the crying and an eruption of laughs broke across the audience led by Danielle shaking her head and proclaiming “that’s my Aunnnnntie”.  We learned quickly, Danielle had a loving and supporting family. They were there for her! As coaches, we won them over when they saw we truly cared for their baby. They made almost all those long commutes from Kansas City, and when they couldn’t Auntie Mary was on her way from Houston. The Big 12 conference tournament was held in Kansas City Danielle’s first year. I mentioned her family crying tears of joy after her first game in the maroon and white. Well, they brought all of Kansas City to that tournament. They too left emotional. They got to watch Danielle and her fellow Kansas City Aggie teammates Tanisha Smith and Tyra White lead the way as the GATA rolled over Texas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma to bring yet another title to Aggieland.

DA KBClosing out her speech Danielle, saved her faith and teammates for last…

“Thank the Lord for giving me the talent, the love of the game, and the passion I have for it.”

Danielle went on to thank her teammates, reserving “the highest praise for them” as she joked she couldn’t have scored if they didn’t give her the ball. Danielle’s teammates would laugh at that too. Her point guard would laugh especially hard, remembering some of those early morning workouts, with then, strength and conditioning coach, Jen Jones. Colson wasn’t always a member of the DA fan club. You see conditioning was done as team, if Danielle didn’t make her time, well then nobody made their time. The toughness of our championship team was built in the weight room. Colson wasn’t the only one, but let’s just say our players didn’t trust Coach Harris or the rest of staff regarding Danielle early on.  However, that’s where faith intertwines in the story.

Jen Jones, was our spiritual leader and led most of our fellowshipping along with Bill Johnston from FCA. We knew a higher power would have to descend upon that locker room to get this group on the same page, at least in conditioning. Otherwise they wanted Danielle, and her making them run twenty extra lines gone. The team came together, Jen and Bill did an excellent job leading our ministry. But I still believe God’s presence and them trusting Coach Harris, didn’t happen until God laid his hand upon Danielle’s shooting arm and led her to those 20+ points, I mentioned earlier against Duke. Let me tell y’all something, the buy in was immediate! Little Miss Colson volunteered to run extra lines with the sharp shooter. Catherine Snow, did extra treadmill time with Danielle, her roommate Skylar Collins, was throwing the hidden junk food out of their pantries. Everyone was doing their part to help their new teammate. While I exaggerate on some of this (not really), Danielle had found sisters for life. They fell in love with her from all I described, but they truly fell in love with her for her selfless nature. Danielle did all the extra work, because she didn’t want to let her sisters down.

DA SYDIn 2010 we lost to a really good Gonzaga team in the NCAA, led by now Oregon head coach Kelly Graves.  There was emptiness, it wasn’t shock, because we respected our opponent. However, we knew the talent on our roster could match up to anyone else’s in the country. We took to a knee and thanked God for his protection over the course of the year. The look on our players’ faces in the locker room still pain me to this day. There wasn’t a long speech after that game. Danielle and her sisters, took that pain, along with their faith, and brought it back to Aggieland. We all got to witness their manifestation in 2011.  National Champions!

You would think as a coach, 2011 was my proudest moment for Danielle. Well it wasn’t! Danielle went on to make the 2011 WNBA All Star team as a rookie, narrowly losing Rookie of the year out to Maya Moore. She signed a lucrative Nike endorsement and played overseas in the top Euro league. A small promise to Grandmom and Coach Blair, is what I’ll always remember. Danielle turned down a six figure offer from abroad to come back to Aggieland and finish her degree. The promise she made to those two was coming true.

My daughter was born almost nine months after the 2011 celebration had ended. She didn’t get to watch Danielle play as an Aggie. However, she got to witness the giving side we all fell in love with. Danielle studying and explaining her work at the kitchen table. She got to witness her dominate a young group of Ags, that soon learned why the banners hung. She begged to put her feet in the big recovery boots, Danielle put on after every practice. She got to wrestle, read, and ride bikes with Danielle. Lauryn got to meet Danielle as Mrs. Clause at a luncheon and even got to break a birthday piñata, with her hero right by her side! However, my favorite moment, was watching Danielle’s Mom, Tiffany cry as her baby fell into her arms as a graduate of Texas A&M.

DA PINATADanielle’s career has continued to shine wrapping up her 6th straight year as a professional. Despite traveling the globe, Aggieland is always with her. Three words seem small when wrapping up a night like the 40th Annual Burgess Banquet honoring the Texas A&M Hall of Fame Class of 2017. But for an Aggie, her choice of words was perfect…Thanks and Gig’em

Leading — The Aggie Way

aggie leadership councilBy Bob Starkey

One of my staff responsibilities at Texas A&M is to head up our “Leadership Council.”  It is a group of our student-athletes that meet weekly to discuss the elements of leadership and how we can best apply them to improving our team.  Often we spend time working on basketball skills as coaches — shooting, passing, dribbling and rebounding — but not leadership.  I often hear coaches talk about how they lack leadership on their team and I always respond, “are you teaching it?”

This biggest part of our Leadership Council is not me preaching but me listening a lot.  We have six members this year on our council and my number one goal is to create ownership of our culture with our team.  It’s their vehicle…they have the keys…now where and how are we going to drive it.  Their voice, thoughts and ideas are critical to developing successful leaders — not just for our basketball team but for later in life.

Our objectives with the council include:

#1 To develop and improve upon our leadership as individuals.

#2 To create a leadership culture that will positively impact our team.

“Leadership isn’t a difference maker, it’s THE difference maker.” -Urban Meyer

This year’s council includes Taylor Cooper, Alyssa Michalke, Curtyce Knox, Jasmine Lumpkin, Anriel Howard and Danni Williams.

And our council this year has been outstanding.  Last year we lost three starters — all who spent some time in the WNBA.  We lost the SEC 6th Player of the Year and our top post player off the bench.  Coaches and sportswriters alike pegged us to finish in the lower half of the SEC.  Terms like “rebuilding” were used often.  Yet here we are finishing in the top half of the SEC, winning two games in the SEC tournament, owner of 21 regular season victories while awaiting our dance ticket in the NCAA.

And a big reason has to be the job our council has done in communicating with our team and providing a great example.  The season can be a grind and the response of a team to the difficulty and adversity that is face is essential.  We talk about making sure that our leadership council wins the locker room.  The leadership is magnified significantly AWAY from practices and games.

We meet weekly in our conference room with the letters “Leadership Council” above us.  In the past, we have had individual photos of each member of the council.  This year, we exchanged that for a team photo with the quote “Life’s most urgent question is what are you doing for others,” by Dr. Martin Luther King.

Learning to lead is not an easy thing to do.  It takes time and understanding of what goes into it.  The reason most reject opportunities to lead is because of the great responsibility that comes with it.

We tell them to follow the words of Jim Rohn: “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.  Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills.  Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.”

The first thing we do each year is create a Mission Statement.  This year our council came up with the following:

By serving selflessly as leaders, setting an example worth following, and establishing a positive culture, we will develop strong, confident leaders capable of overcoming adversity and challenges in pursuit of their goals.

aggie leadership council2One of the things we do each we is discuss passages from “The Daily Reader” by John Maxwell.  I am always blown away with each our student-athletes and what they bring away from the daily reading that they choose to share.

This year we asked our council to then go into detail about how we can put our mission statement to work and, lead by Alyssa, they came up with the following:

Serving Selflessly as Leaders

Listen and understand the needs of our teammates

Provide mentorship and guidance to underclassmen and new-comers

Praise our teammates in public, while saving criticism for private conversations

Always put others first, no matter the situation

Setting an Example Worth Following

Have a positive attitude at all times

Body language, tone, execution during practice, etc.

Take coaching and criticism well

Use it as an opportunity to grow and develop into a better person and player, not a chance to talk back to a coach or teammate

Exhibit a strong desire to improve with every rep, every drill, every practice

Encourage and support our teammates who are facing adversity

Behave appropriately, respectfully, and maturely at all times, including road trips, study hall, team dinners, etc.

Be respectful and appreciative to those people serving us (managers, practice players, coaches, waiters, staff, etc.)

Be a quiet professional, but know when to speak up to make a point

Establishing a Positive Culture

Hold each other accountable to high standards, knowing that our example and our choices carry considerable weight

Call each other out when we’re not practicing well, when we miss a team function (weights, study hall)

Challenge and push each other to become better individuals first, better athletes second

Be firm, fair, and consistent, both when praising and holding our teammates accountable

Don’t encourage, tolerate, enable, or cause behavior that is detrimental to our team

Developing Strong, Confident Leaders

Challenge others to step outside their comfort zone in pursuit of personal development and improvement

Set an example of strength, confidence, and maturity when faced with challenges

Provide opportunities for others to showcase their strengths and abilities

Of course, as in the game of basketball itself, game plans are important but they are insignificant if not followed by execution.

What an amazing document!  I’m proud of them for their vision but more importantly for their effort they’ve put forth in executing that vision.

Thank you Leadership Council for a job well done — now let’s finish!

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

 

 

 

MY HERO

breast-cancer-picAt the age of 57, there have been two dates that have dramatically changed my life. The first coming on September 7, 1991 when Sherie Yvette Hayslett made me the happiest man on the face of the planet by taking my hand in marriage.

Then there was June 19, 2007.

On that day, I was in our Baton Rouge house working on the computer in my home office.  It was late morning and Sherie walked in saying she had just gotten on off the phone with the doctor.

“I have breast cancer.”

It is impossible for me to put into words the incredible wave of emotions that washed through me at the moment.  As I got up from my chair to hug her, the first thought that came to mind was “could she possibly die?”  And then, I just as quickly erased that thought, looked into her eyes, and said, “We’re going to be OK — we’re going to beat this.”

And then the journey began.

The bad news was that we had been diagnosed with HER2, one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancers…the good news is that it was Stage 1 — the result of early detection.  In 1991, Sherie had felt a lump during a self-examination and while it proved to be nothing more than a water-filled cyst, a checkup found another lump which also proved to be nothing serious, but started her on an annually scheduled mammogram.  In 2002, after an ultrasound, our doctors suggested two mammograms a year — which eventually found the cancerous tumor — early!

Sherie and I often speak to organizations and the one thing we are quick to point out is that she is alive because or early detection.

After we received the phone call, we met with our doctor and went about putting together our “Dream Team” of physicians, including our oncologist Georgie Reine, surgeon Mary Christian, and cardiologist Carl Luikart.

There were more tests and then a scheduled lumpectomy to remove the cancer, which went well.  Then Sherie had a port installed to receive her chemo and meds.  Sherie named her port “Polly” after the cartoon Underdog’s girlfriend.  Yes, “Polly Port.”

It was early in our journey when I came to the realization that my wife is a hell of lot tougher than I am.  While I am silent in my fear with a happy, positive face on the outside, Sherie is steamrolling through each day with the most amazing attitude.

On July 2, we started chemo and Herceptin, which was a relatively new medicine for HER2 breast cancer.  It was during this process that we learned of all the groundbreaking treatments for breast cancer that are available today.  Early on, there was only one type of chemo, often called “Red Devil” because it was red and made patients incredibly ill.  Today, treatments are practically tailored to each patient.  Along with Sherie’s chemo and Herceptin, she had a medication to fight nausea.

Chemotherapy was at the oncologist’s office.  This was where we were introduced to the “Infusion Room.”  It was a large room filled with comfortable recliners.  The nurses that worked there were amazing.  They were personable, great listeners, and positive-thinking people.  It was in the Infusion Room that I had another realization.  The women would be sitting in their recliners with tubes attached to their ports and various medications pouring into their systems while their husbands and boyfriends sat by their sides. The women would be chatting about anything and everything — their children, their jobs, television shows, vacation plans — anything and everything.  While we men sat there and stared into space.  We all knew what each other was thinking.  Some women drove themselves to the Infusion Room and then drove to work. Early on, it hit me.  Sherie just wasn’t tougher than me — women were tougher than men!

We received our radiation treatments at the Mary Bird Cancer Center.  It was staffed by amazing people who impacted Sherie and me greatly.

Early in our journey, Sherie and I had a conversation about whether we wanted to battle this disease privately and concentrate completely on doing what we needed to do to defeat cancer? Or did we want to take our battle public and see if we could do some good in our community?  Both choices are correct ones — and it is up to each team to decide.

coach1

Our choice had a great deal to do with Coach Kay Yow.  If I can rewind, I’ll explain:

In March of 2007, I was serving as the interim head coach for the LSU Lady Tigers in the NCAA Tournament and we had advanced to the Regionals in Fresno, California. Another of the regional participants was Coach Yow and her North Carolina State team.  I was sitting in my hotel room with my wife. We were watching a moving piece on ESPN on Coach Yow and her battle with breast cancer, talking about how Coach Yow had actually had a chemo treatment on the team plane from Raleigh, NC to Fresno.  It was very moving and I can remember as if it were yesterday my wife Sherie, with tears in her eyes, saying, “She must be an amazing woman.”

Two months later Sherie was diagnosed with breast cancer.  When we spoke about the various options, Sherie simply said, “I hope I’m as tough as Coach Yow.”

During the 2008 Final Four in Tampa, my wife and I were honored to speak at the inaugural Kay Yow Foundation press conference and for the first time, Sherie got to meet her new hero.  I had known Coach Yow for some time, working her camps.  But I will never forget how she treated Sherie that day — as if they were old friends.

The first group we shared our news with was our LSU Lady Tiger Basketball family.  There is nothing — and I mean nothing — like a team.  Our team rallied around Sherie in so many ways — especially our players.  They constantly checked on her and offered assistance.   And not just the current players, but the alums.  Temeka Johnson was a constant visitor and someone who made herself available to Sherie in her fundraising projects.  To this day, Sylvia Fowles will send Sherie her pink game shoes with an inscription.  Marie Ferdinand sent her a pink sweat suit.  There were notes, cards, and phone calls.  The love she felt from so many made a huge difference.

img_9981Soon the time came, as it does with most, that Sherie’s hair started to fall out.  I was worried about how this would effect Sherie.  You see Sherie is a cosmetologist — went to school…got her license…opened her own successful hair salon.  Hair was important to her.  But as with everything else in our journey, it never phased her.  She told anyone who asked that it meant a shorter shower for her, laughing as she said it.  We made the decision that I would shave my hair as well — after all, we are a team.  We set a date and Sherie broke out her professional clippers and in our living room we shaved each other bald!  We walked into the bathroom to look in the mirror and both laughed.

Of course, I was upset.  I thought for the first time in my married life that I would finally be the more attractive one — WRONG!  Sherie was stunning — even without hair!  I wanted to make it as fun as possible so I scheduled a “Glamor Shot” photo shoot for the two of us.  Sherie looked so amazing that the studio actually put up some of her photos in their store — the ones without me.

img_9980

We purchased wigs for Sherie but she opted never to wear them, being comfortable with whom she was and how she looked.  Only an occasional hat to keep her head warm.

We scheduled her chemo times in the morning so I could be with her and not miss our afternoon workouts with the team.  What this does is it creates a “chemo family”.  The same people are there at the same time and they get to know each other very well.

There was one day, however, when we had to move our chemo treatment to the afternoon.  We were out in the waiting room when a woman arrived in a wheelchair.  This was obviously her normal time because everyone in the waiting room smiled, waved, and called her by name.  Then another woman said, “What are you doing here?  I thought you were done with your treatment a month ago?” The woman replied, “I did finish up but the doctors asked me to come back in.”

Soon after, they wheeled her back.  Before long, she came back out in the waiting room where she was crying and visibly upset. Her friend from earlier asked what was wrong and she responded, “The doctor told me the cancer is back, has spread, and it is not treatable.”

There was stunned silence, followed by tears from everyone.  My body shook.  Except by the grace of God that could be Sherie.  Wait, it still could be.  There’s no guarantee that the cancer won’t return.  It happened to Coach Yow.  That afternoon in the Infusion Room was very sobering.

But that’s not the part of the story I want to leave you with.

A few weeks later, we were back in the Infusion Room at our regular time and in wheeled this same woman who earlier had been told she had only a short while left on this earth.  As a friend wheeled her around, she reached into a Kroger bag on her lap and brought out a wrapped gift. She gave one to each nurse in the Infusion Room, thanking them for taking care of her.  It was the most amazing act of humility I have ever witnessed.  I have told the story many times, never without tears or my voice cracking.

After a year of treatment the news that you are cancer-free gives you an emotion never before felt…it’s hard to explain — happiness…joy…exhilaration. Those words aren’t suitable for describing it.

But then, Dr. Christian asked to meet with us. We were told the BRCA test they had performed on Sherie had come back positive for the BRCA gene.  Dr. Christian told us, in simple terms, that there could be up to a 40% chance the cancer could return!  My mind immediately thought of Coach Yow and the woman in the Infusion Room.  Dr. Christian said her recommendation, and she said it was a very strong recommendation, was for Sherie to have a double mastectomy removing both her breasts.  She told us the chance of the cancer returning would drop to 2%.  The decision for me was easy but it wasn’t up to me.  As we went through this journey, I thought Sherie needed to have ownership for her decisions — it was, after all, her body.  My responsibility was to fully support those decisions.  Normally, when it got to situations like that, she would ask my opinion — not this time.  She said, “Let’s do it!”

This is where we added one more member to our “Dream Team” — Dr. Gary Cox, our reconstructive plastic surgeon.

Today Sherie remains cancer free — and there isn’t a day that goes by that we take that for granted.  Before her diagnosis, I spent too much time at my job and not enough time with her.  There would be summers where she would vacation with friends because I didn’t think I could be away from my job.  During the season, I would spend two nights a week in the office, never going home, preparing the next scouting report.  I worked on Christmas Eve and even Christmas Day.

Not anymore.  As much as I loved Sherie on that wedding night of September 7, 1991, it’s multiplied by 1000.  We don’t miss vacations anymore.  We don’t miss opportunities to spend time with each other.

The journey was difficult but it was also a blessing.

img_9982Sherie was so affected by the staff in the Infusion Room that she became a volunteer worker, volunteering at the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center until we moved.  We got involved with the Komen Foundation and, of course, the Kay Yow Foundation.  She was the head of a committee that ran an annual fund-raising golf tournament for Women’s Hospital. She was a chairperson for the annual Komen’s Race for the Cure in Baton Rouge.  She even shot a commercial for Mary Bird Perkins which ran several years. Here in College Station, we give and support the Pink Alliance.

As you can tell, I’m incredibly proud of her.  She’s my hero!

This past month, I was honored to receive a call from Stephanie Glance who heads up the Kay Yow Foundation, asking for me to be part of a committee of NCAA assistant coaches.  Our committee leader is Beth Burns of USC and our movement is called Screen For Kay, where we are raising money for mammograms.  I can’t think of anything more important — my wife is alive today because of a mammogram — because of early detection.  What a great way to pay it forward. This Thursday night, Sherie and I will donate $1 for each student that attends our game against Alabama to Screen For Kay fund.

screen4kay-3As a coach of a women’s basketball team, it’s so incredibly important to me that we do all we can to defeat breast cancer.  It’s not lost on me that when we huddle at midcourt after each practice, and we have 12 to 15 young women standing in that circle, that the national statistics say 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime.  It is predicted that over 250,000 new cases of breast cancer will occur in 2017.

We are making great strides in the battle against breast cancer, but we are also far from total and complete victory.  If you are an assistant coach out there reading this, our Kay Yow committee is going to be leaning on you to help.  We often talk about growing the game and what better way to do that than protecting those who play.

 

 

The Sorority

aw-wright2By Amy Wright

Do you love the game of basketball?  I mean really love it.  Through the 6 am workouts.  The extra line drills.  The injuries.  The losses.  The yelling and screaming from coaches, teammates and fans. Do you REALLY love the game of basketball?  If you can answer this question whole heartedly “YES!”— then you can join The Sorority.

The Sorority consists of about 20 young women, all of whom have had the life changing experience of playing point guard for Coach Gary Blair.  I am positive from 1985, when Coach Blair took over at Stephen F. Austin, to our most recent inductee in 2016 from Texas A&M, Jordan Jones, we all share the same experiences of growth, challenge and change.  But the one thing that reigns consistent through 20 some years is all of our love for the game of basketball.  We all would not have developed into the women we are today and developed into the best basketball players we could be, without him and our love for the game.

“You can’t bust a grape!”  This was Coach Blair’s roundabout way of telling me I was too soft.  I feel like each semester of my career at Arkansas was highlighted by a Blairism.  But each deliberate and challenging catch phrase gave me the opportunity to prove him wrong about the type of player I was going to be in the SEC.  I rounded out my freshman year with “Honey, head up to the popcorn vendor.”  I can’t tell you how many stairs I ran at Bud Walton Arena, but I was the most in shape point guard in the SEC.  I couldn’t get a play right.  I couldn’t get 4 people on the same page to run a near perfect play call.  This was my responsibility as a Coach Blair PG.  This was my team and I needed to take ownership of it.  And I was going to run until I did.

ag-wright-1Heading into sophomore year, I was finally coming into my own as a leader on and off the court.  But I still had major issues to be an impact point guard at the SEC level.  Coach Blair knew he needed me.  He continuously pushed me to do better than my best.  “Aaaaamay.  Take care of that pumpkin today.”  All he wanted was for me to stop turning the ball over.  Of course I had the normal 19 year old excuses. “She’s not getting open on the wing!”  “She stopped running!”  “Why is everything always my fault!”  It wasn’t until a very strong phone call from my mother set me straight.  “Amy, you wanted to play in the toughest conference in the country.  You wanted to play immediately.  You want to be one of the best players in the country.  How is Coach Blair asking you to play 40 minutes a game, trusting you with his team and pushing you to be better than you are such a bad thing?  Sounds to me like you’re being a baby.”  Awww, Big K. (That’s my,  my teammates and my friends endearing name for my mother)  I knew I was out numbered.  It was time to change my mental game.  By the end of my sophomore year, I had finally earned my first “Atta baby,” from GB.

My junior and senior years were very different than my previous two years.  Though some of the best times of my life, the Coach Blair, Point Guard relationship continued to grow in a more basketball manner.  I had earned his trust as a player.  Now it was up to me to decipher exactly what “Do the THING & RUN the THING” actually meant during a game.  I always took it as it was my turn.  My turn to call the plays for his Lady Back teams.  Rarely did I turn over the pumpkin and rarely did I have to go see the popcorn vendor.  Many Blairisms came out of frustration from either GB or Coach Schaefer (Current Head Coach at Mississippi State) and I could only translate them as just do better.  One of my all-time favorites was “Do it for my twins!”  This was a Schaefer daily message, begging our team to defend with the intensity and passion he had as a coach.

aw-colsonLooking back at my experience and now experiencing the coaching side and working with Coach Blair, I can honestly say he was right.  He was right about my ability as a player along with many other players.  He was right in the way he pushed me beyond any other coach I had ever played for.  He made me a basketball player, not just a kid that played basketball.  He made me think the game for myself and others.  He gave me responsibility beyond what I needed or deserved  and forced me to accept it and grow into a leader.

I enjoy seeing my Soro sisters on the road now as a coach. Briefly, let me run through the lineage:

Christy Smith (Current Head Coach at Incarnate Word University)
Amy Wright (Assistant Coach at Texas A&M University)
Toccarra Williams (Current real estate sales & founder of the AAU program Sweet Rebound)
Aqua Franklin (Associate Head Coach at University of Kansas)
Sydney Colson (WNBA San Antonio Stars & Assistant Coach at Rice University)
Sydney Carter (Professional Player – Riga Latvia)
Adrienne Pratcher (Teacher College Station ISD & Associate Head Coach College Station High School)
Jordan Jones (WNBA Draft Pick Chicago Sky – Professional Player – Poland)

aw-carterNot a bad line up.  The thing that we all have in common is our experiences.  We’ve been broken to be built back up.  We’ve been given responsibility to fail and succeed.  We’ve been given an opportunity to grow and find ourselves and our dreams.  Bringing us all together with these experiences is The Sorority.

I had a short time being around Aqua Franklin during my graduate assistant ship at Texas A&M.  This is where I learned it wasn’t just me that had been through this unique experience, Aqua was starting her freshman season at A&M.  The one thing I know we all hate about the other is the point guard before us.  I know my name was Christy for 3 years while I was at Arkansas.  This was coach referring to Christy Smith (Arkansas 1994-1998) another Indiana kid that had taken a chance to come down south and attend the Gary Blair Point Guard University!  Aqua was referred to as Amy and I’m willing to bet Syndey (Colson) was referred to as Aqua.  Usually GB had a unique way of bringing us together because we could share our stories of anger about him, but with this small “mix-up,” he found a way for all of us to compete.  Prove that we are and will be better than the last point guard to run the show.

Being the actual point guard to go through this process is so different than being a coach watching 18 to 22 year olds go through the process.  I have had the privilege of working with 3 of the best that will ever go through the Texas A&M women’s basketball program, Adrienne Pratcher; Jordan Jones and Curtyce Knox.  All 3 unique in their own way.

aw-pratcherAdrienne was pretty much past the “Whoa is me” stage of becoming a member of The Sorority.  By the time I had arrived at Texas A&M, Pratcher was a quiet leader and an extremely intelligent and highly competitive basketball player.  She had already figured out Coach Blair’s jabs of motivation.  “Pratcher, you gotta think hunny, you gotta think.”  “You’re going to let a freshman take your spot.”  Pratcher knowing already all he wanted was her best.  Pratcher never took what happened in the game or practice personally.  She knew he was pushing her to be a better player. Much like her leadership style, Pratcher had quietly taken the GB Blueprint for running a team and guided the team to the 2013 SEC Tournament title.  I think she was able to prove Coach Blair wrong in that a point guard doesn’t always have to be vocal, emotional or flamboyant.  Pratcher did it her way, and she did it very well.

aw-jonesI spent all 4 years of Jordan Jones’ career at Texas A&M by her side. She went through every emotion, every challenge and every change Coach Blair was going to put in front of her.  Jordan reminded me so much of Sydney Colson with a splash of Amy Wright it was so hard at times to watch or listen to her go through practice or a game.  Jordan was by far one of the smartest point guards I have ever met.  If Jordan put her mind to something, it was going to be done and be done well.  On those off days, and we all have those off days, it was so hard to real Jordan in from the Coach Blair style of coaching.  He wanted you to be great, even on your off days.  And he was going to push you until he saw it.  On those days I felt somewhat helpless as I knew exactly what he was doing, but Jordan was so smart and so talented, she knew she could still get the job done even on her worst day.  “Jordan, play the game with a smile on your face.  Act like you enjoy it.”  This was a new Blairism for me, but I knew where he was coming from.  GB gave Jordan the keys to a Corvette and he so wanted her to enjoy the drive!  Coach Blair and I both knew Jordan’s potential, the toughest thing was unlocking it daily.  Jordan is an emotional leader.  She won tons of game in an Aggie uniform and in my opinion, is one of the best point guards to ever roll through the SEC and Texas A&M.

“It’s a speaking part hunny!”  I think Curtyce Knox hears this in her sleep at night.  For 3 years Coach Blair has been all over her to talk on the basketball court.  Pushing her to become a verbal leader.  While Tyce is still growing in this aspect, she has definitely marked herself a leader for this year’s team.  Curtyce is a 5th year senior.  Curtyce is a graduate of Texas A&M.  Curtyce has loving mother and family that adore the Aggies.  Curtyce is a mother to a beautiful baby girl, Haven.  Curtyce is now the point guard for the Texas A&M women’s basketball team.  You know that old saying, “there’s light at the end of the tunnel,”  I used to say this to Curtyce all the time.  Right now she is shining in that light.  And while her path to this point may not have been the norm, it was the right path for Curtyce.  Although she has not faced adversity in a game, she has seen how adversity has played out with Sydney Colson, Adrienne Pratcher and Jordan Jones.  She may not talk a lot, but this kid observes everything.  She knows the expectations and what it takes to be competitive in the SEC, for her and the team.  Tyce got her first “Atta baby” the second day of practice.  While Tyce doesn’t talk much, her smile said it all in that moment.

fullsizerenderThe Sorority is unique.  It’s an experience of a lifetime.  It’s an ongoing membership that will never die and carry on the legacy of great people and great basketball players, along with a pretty great coach, Gary Blair.

Prayers For My Friends

br-flood4

By Bob Starkey, Assistant Coach

I’ve tried to write this for the past few weeks but it hasn’t been easy.

Louisiana was my home for 25 years.

When I left I said that often those on the outside think that the landmarks of The Boot are the stately Oaks, the amazing cuisine of creole cooking, Mardi Gras parades, and Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night.  But it’s not.

It’s the people.

For a quarter of century these people have had a tremendous impact on who I am and what I’ve become.  They are a resilient people.

As former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens wrote: “Resilience is the virtue that enables people to move through hardship and become better.  No one escapes pain, fear and suffering.  Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength – if we have the virtue of resilience.”

These are the people of Louisiana.

While the spirit of the state can be seen in so many places, never does it rise higher than battling Mother Nature. During my 25 years of residency the state has had over a dozen Hurricanes hit its shores including Hurricane Andrew, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina. And unless you are there to see it, live it, and fight it, you truly never understand all that it entails. The loss of property and loss of life are followed by long, extended periods of rebuilding. It was estimated that the New Orleans area would take 20 years to return to its former self and yet there are still pockets of communities that never rebounded.

br-flood3Last month, a tragedy like no other hit the state and it is remarkable in that it had no name. It was not the result of a Hurricane of even a tropical depression, but the “1,000 year storm” dumped 30 inches of rain in large sections of Louisiana over a seven day period.

Putting it in perspective, Watson, Louisiana received 31 inches of rain during that seven day period, which was two inches more rain than what Los Angeles has gotten in the past four years combined. The unnamed storm dropped 7.1 trillion gallons of water on Louisiana, which pales in comparison to the 2.3 trillion from Hurricane Katrina.

These numbers are staggering, but the impact changes when the people effected are your friends and families.  My friends and family that lost their homes, automobiles and family treasures that can’t be replaced. Their children are without schools to attend. The images are heartbreaking. The conversations are numbing.

Many stayed with their homes until the very last minute. Some had to be rescued by boat. Then they had to wait for the water to subside, in some cases more than a week before even finding out how high the water has risen in their houses. Then they went to work gutting out their houses. Removing flooring, walls, cabinets, even ceilings.

Rebuilds are slow – a snail’s pace. There is always a shortage of materials and labor to handle such a massive operation. After all, over 40,000 homes were damaged – over 40,000!

Let me tell you about my friends and family. They were ready when the waters subsided to charge back into their homes and begin rebuilding. There is a work ethic among them. My friends and family that weren’t effected directly have become hardcore volunteers.

As a coach, you tend to look at life as a team. Does your “team” have the elements it needs to succeed?  Things like work ethic, sacrifice, humility, leadership – yes, I believe these are important for all kinds of “teams” including communities.

I love what Vince Lombardi said about the third ingredient:”There are a lot of coaches with good ball clubs who know the fundamentals and have plenty of discipline but still don’t win the game.  Then you come to the third ingredient: if you’re going to play together as a team, you’ve got to care of one another.  You’ve got to love each other.  Each player has to be thinking about the next. The difference between mediocrity and greatness is the feeling these guys have for each other.”

The stories I’ve heard from family and friends or viewed from news reports speak to all that is great about Louisiana and is what makes America great – in times of difficulty we are there for each other.

br-flood2While the news cycle has long left the devastated communities please don’t forget the battle that is just beginning for all as they work to put their homes and lives back together…it will be a long and often painful journey.  I ask you to please keep them in your prayers and challenge you to look for ways to contribute.

It is often said that it’s not how heavy the load is. It’s how you carry it. And it’s easier to carry with help.  I’ll close with one more quote from Lombardi:“People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses or the complex problems of modern society.”